Exploring trends and developments in project management today

A Framework for Programme Management

Duncan Haughey

5 stepping stones

In business today organisations manage multiple projects concurrently with shared or overlapping resources, often in different geographical locations. Today's traditional project management methodologies and techniques do not recognise the reality of organisational structures and workplace priorities, nor do they leverage the potential benefits that accrue from multi-skilled and multi-location teams. Programme management is a technique that allows organisations to run multiple, related projects concurrently to obtain significant benefits from them as a group.

Programme management is a way to control project management, which traditionally has focussed on technical delivery. A group of related projects not managed as a programme are likely to run off course and fail to achieve the desire outcome. Programme management concentrates on delivering some or all of the following:

  • New capabilities, products and services.
  • Business plan.
  • Strategic objectives.
  • Change.
  • Other initiatives.

Definitions of Programme Management

These four definitions of programme management are all endeavouring to explain clearly and concisely what is, in effect, the management of multiple projects in order to achieve major change to gain significant benefits within an organisation.

Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA)

Definition: The coordinated management of a portfolio of projects to achieve a set of business objectives.

The CCTA's Introduction to Programme Management talks about defining the long-term objectives of the organisation. Once these long-term objectives have been established the organisation identifies projects that help achieve these objectives and thinks carefully about the benefits these projects are designed to bring about. It advises that the organisation set-up assorted structures to manage the programme and keep the strategic objectives in mind. To give the organisation a chance to stop and look at what has changed, what is to change next and to compare all of that with those highly significant overall objectives the CCTA recommends achieving 'islands of stability'. Whilst on an island, the ground is firmer under foot and you are better able to take stock of the past, present and future.

The Programme Management Group (PMG)

Definition: The planning and monitoring of tasks and resources across a portfolio of projects.

The Programme Management Group talks about the limitations caused by methodologies incapable of being addressed by traditional project management products and techniques. The PMG have identified the types of organisation that they feel benefit from programme management and say they are those that have:

  • Multiple projects happening simultaneously.
  • Complex mix of uniquely highly skilled individuals.
  • Geographically dispersed projects.
  • Conflicting priorities and schedules for people and projects.
  • Changing deadlines and objectives.
  • A requirement for responding to 'what if' scenarios and requests.

Those organisations with a very stable, large, single project approach do not benefit in their opinion.

The Interactive Project Workout, Robert Buttrick

Definition: Directing a 'programme' of projects is a key management task, as it is this 'bundle' of projects that will take you from where you are now to your, hopefully, better future.

In his book The Interactive Project Workout, Robert Buttrick identifies three different configurations of programmes:

  • Portfolio: a set of related projects aimed at meeting the business plan needs.
  • Goal directed: a set of closely related projects aimed at creating a new capability.
  • Heartbeat: a set of activities managed around a service delivery, for example a large IT system.

The author goes on to say that some projects 'are simply too large to manage as a 'single entity.' His concept is that the organisation structure for programmes is one of a programme manager supported by multiple project managers, all of whom have their own teams.

Association for Project Management (APM)

Definition: Programme management is the coordinated management of related projects, which may include related business-as-usual activities that together achieve a beneficial change of a strategic nature for an organisation. What constitutes a programme will vary across industries and business sectors, but there are core programme management processes.

In his paper Understanding Programme Management, Dr Glenn Strange identifies three 'crucial sins.'

  • Not having a clear understanding of the definitions and the technologies involved.
  • A lack of a clear sense of direction and purpose in which the programme is aimed.
  • Not having the 'baselines' clearly defined, which promotes an unstable programme from the outset.

The author goes on to say that 'all programmes must have a well-defined baseline from which to measure costs and benefits resulting from investment into the programme.' He warns against facilitating scope creep by a lack of a clear definition.

Objectives of Programme Management

Programme management is a technique concerned with controlling a group of related projects carried out to achieve a defined business goal, objective or benefit. If we take one of Robert Buttrick's definitions that some projects 'are simply too large to manage as a single entity,' then we necessarily need to split them up into smaller manageable projects.

If the whole is too large for a single project manager to handle, then it follows that a number of project managers are required to run the smaller projects. So smaller projects with multiple project managers all designed to achieve a single long-term goal, objective or benefit for the organisation are what we require.

In order to control this group and have an overall view, we require a programme manager. The programme manager is not concerned with the day to day running of individual projects, this is the responsibility of the project mangers. The programme manager needs to ensure that all projects are running on target and that each will achieve its overall contribution to the programme as a whole. The activities undertaken during programme management are:

  • Setting the baseline.
  • Agreeing roles and responsibilities.
  • Programme planning.
  • Project prioritisation.
  • Stakeholder communication.
  • Progress reporting.
  • Managing benefits.
  • Quality management.
  • Risk management.
  • Issue management.
  • Programme closure.

The Framework

As identified in the introduction, programme management is a way to control project management. A group of related projects not managed as a programme are likely to run off course and fail to achieve the desire outcome. There are eight important areas in the programme management framework:

  • Vision.
  • Aims and objectives.
  • Scope.
  • Design.
  • Approach.
  • Resource management.
  • Responsibilities.
  • Benefits realisation.

Let us take a brief look at each area in turn.

Vision is the high level strategy or idea to drive the organisation towards a goal, benefit or other desired outcome. The vision will usually be a brief statement of intent communicated down from the leadership. It is important that the vision has high level sponsorship and commitment for it to be successful.

The aims and objectives is a more detailed statement that explains exactly what is required. This provides a point of reference to go back to when renewed focus is required.

The scope gives boundaries to the programme explaining what exactly it is that will be delivered. The scope should leave no room for doubt and everyone should be clear about what is and is not being delivered.

Design is the way in which the projects that make up the programme are put together. In this process the programme manager considers which projects have dependencies on others, therefore which should come first, can run concurrently, and those that come last.

The approach is the way the programme will be run. It is dependent on many factors and it is left to the skill of the programme manager to decide the most effective way. The approach should include a communication plan and as a minimum, should commit to regular progress reporting to stakeholders.

Resource management looks at the scheduling and allocation of resources. Short term and longer-term views should be taken. For the projects that will start straightaway, it is important to identify resources and obtain line manager commitment early on. For later projects, required resource levels should be identified, but line manager commitment is not necessarily needed at this stage.

Responsibilities identifies and allocates responsibility for each area of the programme. Every member of the programme must clearly understand his or her roles and the roles of the other team members. It is the task of the programme manager to ensure that this is clearly communicated and understood.

Benefits realisation is the process at the end of the programme by which the benefits identified at the beginning of the programme and measured. It is the responsibility of the programme manager to demonstrate to the steering committee or leadership that the desired benefits have been realised. Often this will mean that the programme manager will continue to monitor a programme long after the individual projects are complete in order to ensure that the benefits are realised at a business level.

Programme Management Framework

Figure 1: Programme Management Framework.

This framework will provide:

  • A focus on delivering major organisational change or benefits.
  • Greater control through visibility of all projects in the programme.
  • An understanding of project dependencies.
  • Clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
  • A single line of communication to the steering committee or sponsor.
  • Optimised use of resources across projects.
  • Ability to leverage economies of scale and maximise value.
  • Management of risk across related projects.
  • Mechanisms for measuring benefit realisation.

Within this framework there are four stages.

The Four Stages

There are the four stages in programme management:

  1. Programme identification.
  2. Programme planning.
  3. Programme delivery.
  4. Programme closure.

These stages take the programme from initiation, based on strategy and a desire for change, right through to the final realisation of a defined business objective or benefit.

Programme Management Stage Mapping

Figure 2: Programme Management Stage Mapping.

Stage 1: Programme Identification

This is a high level process where the strategy and direction of the organisation are decided. It is from this that the programmes required to realise these strategies are determined. A document for each programme is produced outlining the business case, alignment to strategy, scope and the expected business objective or benefits. All benefits should be graded in accordance with their importance. I suggest three grades A, B and C. A's are those benefits that are of the highest value, often it is 20% of the programme that delivers 80% of the benefits. The B's those benefits that are seen as important, but not essential. The C's are those benefits that if not realised will not prevent the programme being declared a success. This grading is used by the programme manager to assess the degree of success achieved at the end of the programme.

Stage 2: Programme Planning

The planning stage is where the design of the programme takes place. The programme manager in establishing the programme will:

  • Define clear objectives.
  • Agree an approach.
  • Agree roles and responsibilities with the team.
  • Set-up communication channels.
  • Agree priorities of the projects that make up the programme.
  • Complete project planning.

It is important at this stage to identify adequate levels of resource for the early projects and identify the requirements for later projects.

Stage 3: Programme Delivery

At this stage, the individual project managers run the identified projects. The programme manager's responsibility at this stage is to monitor progress, assess risks and report progress to the steering committee or leadership. The programme manager has a view across all projects and must ensure that the programme stays aligned with the overall objectives and strategy of the organisation.

Stage 4: Programme Closure

Like projects, programmes have a finite life and are closed once they achieve their defined business objective or benefit. Before the programme is closed, the programme manager must demonstrate to the steering committee or leadership that the desired benefits have been realised, often called 'benefits realisation'. These benefits are those that were identified in the first stage, programme identification. As these have been graded it is easy to quantify success, for example 100% of 'A' graded benefits delivered. As a final task the programme manager should review the entire programme and document any lessons that have been learned that will enable future programmes to be run more effectively.


To summarise, a group of related projects not managed as a programme are likely to run off course and fail to achieve the desire outcome. It is therefore important that programmes are run within a framework that ensures there is a focus on the overall strategic objectives. By applying the four stages of programme management within the framework outlined, organisations will have created an effective environment in which they can monitor and control the progress of their programmes, improving the chances of bringing them to a successful conclusion.